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Sylvaine Strike’s directing prowess shines in ‘The Promise’

Frank Opperman in a scene from “The Promise”. Picture: Claude Barnardo

Frank Opperman in a scene from “The Promise”. Picture: Claude Barnardo

Published Oct 17, 2023


Award-winning theatre-maker Sylvaine Strike proves her Midas touch once again as the director of Damon Galgut’s “The Promise”.

The production enjoyed its world premiere in Cape Town in September and it is now staging on The John Kani stage at The Market Theatre.

“The Promise” centres on the Swart family living on a small farm near Pretoria.

They promised a small piece of land with a tiny house on it to Salome, a Sotho woman who had worked for them her entire life. While the property is worthless to them, they refuse to part with it and honour their promise.

As members of the family start succumbing to death, one by one, the remaining family ponder the turn of events in relation to the disaster that has befallen them.

In helming this production, Strike explained: “He (Galgut) actually approached me to adapt it for the stage. I have a reputation for working in physical realms in theatre and he thought it would be a good match.

“So he approached me and we started on the journey together. I made one thing very clear – I would not adapt it without him alongside me.

“So he has been very crucial to the adaptation from a textural point of view and, I, from a visual and physical theatre point of view.”

I commented on her bagging the crème de la crème of actors for her cast.

She agreed and proceeded to explain: “Well, I very much had people in mind for certain roles. I also knew that I had to get casting done early in order to secure the people that I imagined I would like because as you said, rightly, they are at the top of their game and they usually come with about two years of booking in advance.

“And I was fortunate enough to hold auditions and also approach the cast members that I really wanted.

“I managed to secure Rob van Vuuren, whom I believe was the person I really wanted for the role of Anton. I’m not sure if you are familiar with the book. Anton is the oldest son in a family of three children. It’s him and then his sister Astrid and his younger sister Amor.

“And I cast Rob first and foremost out of the entire family and the other cast members because I really wanted to find a physical dynamic.

“I had worked with Rob before and he really understands the way I work and what I look for from my actors, which is a highly physical representation of the character as opposed to only a psychological representation of the character.”

With Van Vuuren confirmed, she went on to cast Salome.

She added: “But in order to find Salome, I had to find what kind of family she would be working for. So Salome plays the domestic worker who works for the Swart family over a period of a decade.

“I ended up casting Chuma Sopotela in that role. She is actually extraordinary.

Rob van Vuuren in a scene from “The Promise”. Picture: Claude Barnardo

“And then, of course, I started filling in the gaps, which was finding the mum, the dad, the two sisters and the two actors who would be playing several parts in the family.”

Strike pointed out that she felt really strongly that the production should not only be interesting or entertaining for those who had read the novel.

“It should be a play that spoke universally and that could transcend age groups and demographics and that would be equally funny and tragic – and the book has both of those things. So not everybody had to read the book to be able to follow the story. Damon was very much on board with it.”

As for what she wanted to achieve with this production, Strike explained: “I wanted to tell the story from a perspective that would make us all look at ourselves as South Africans.

“And it’s not a play that shakes its finger at you and tries to make you feel like South Africa is punishing you for what has been done to it.

“But it’s more a question of holding up a mirror and seeing ourselves as South Africans over the four decades since the end of apartheid and through democracy and hold that mirror up and have a long, good look about ourselves.

“To laugh but also cry about it because it doesn’t offer any solutions, it simply offers a microcosm of a family’s life through which we can see ourselves.”

Sylvaine Strike, director of “The Promise”. Picture: Claude Barnardo

The other actors in the production include Kate Normington as Ma and Maman, Frank Opperman as Pa/Rabbi/Moti, Cintaine Schutte as Tannie/Marina/Desiree, Jenny Stead as Astrid, Albert Pretorius as Dominee Simms/Ockie/Dean/Jake/Father Batty, Sanda Shandu as Lukas/Bob/Politician, and Jane de Wet as Amor.

Going by Strike’s comments in the interview, “The Promise” is a labour of love with themes that audiences will find relatable.

Ticket prices vary between R120 and R300 and booking can be made through Webtickets.

“Key Change!”

Jonathan Roxmouth is back at the piano. In “Key Change!”, Roxmouth showcases the various piano-based comedians, singers and entertainers who have shaped and influenced his musical tastes through various phases of his life.

Backed by a fantastic five-piece band, he will be playing and belting out the music of piano rockers such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Elton John and Billy Joel, pianists like Liberace, Richard Clayderman and David Foster and singers such as Carole King, Burt Bacharach and Freddy Mercury.

Where: Pieter Toerien Montecasino Theatre.

When: Until October 29. Wednesday to Friday at 8pm. Saturday at 3pm and 8pm and Sunday at 2pm.

Tickets: R150 – R270 from Webtickets.

“Icons in Dance”

Tania’s School of Ballet presents “Icons in Dance”, a ballet spectacle celebrating the dancers and musicians from the last 150 years.

Where: Joburg Theatre.

When: October 21 – 22.

Tickets: R150 from Webtickets.